The Santa Monica Public Library is facing a 40% reduction in funding as the city of Santa Monica makes deep cuts to avoid a budget deficit brought on by the coronavirus recession.

If City Council approves a $5.5 million reduction in its $13 million budget, the library will eliminate 26.5 full-time positions and lay off 80 as-needed pages, said Patty Wong, director of library services. Forty-seven remaining employees will circulate between three locations that will reopen, working to maintain safe access to books and computers and facilitating programs online and in-person.

“It’s scary, intimating, difficult and sad, but at same time something we’re committed to doing because we have this incredible economic stressor ahead of us,” Wong said. “We have the responsibility to the public to provide the best service we can regardless of what the circumstances are.”

The library closed its five locations in March to slow the spread of coronavirus. The Fairview and Ocean Park branches will remain closed for the foreseeable future, and the system’s three most popular locations — the Main Library and the Montana and Pico branches — will reopen on limited schedules when stay-at-home orders are relaxed.

The Main Library will be open from noon to 8 p.m. during the week and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Library staff will deliver books to patrons at the curb and some computers will be available on the first floor. Boks may need to be quarantined for up to three days after they are returned, Wong said.

Residents will be able to access the Pico Branch from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The branch will prioritize youth, family and language programs in partnership with Virginia Avenue Park.

The Montana Branch will be open on Mondays and Wednesdays from noon to 8 p.m., offering workforce development programs, literacy classes and online high school for adults.

Wong said the library chose 8 p.m. as a closing time to give people the ability to access the library after work. 

“If those hours don’t work, we’ll shift them,” she said. “The goal for us is to be more flexible and see what the community needs.”

When the libraries reopen, full-time staff that were previously dedicated to one location will rotate between the branches, Wong said. And because the city has laid off as-needed shelvers, librarians will have to pick up the slack.

“Staff are going to have to take on multiple roles,” she said. “Our full-time staff will have to shelve, which is not best use of their time. Unless we had volunteers, we would like to bring back a small crew of as-needed staff to help us shelve — otherwise, it will take much longer to get things back in order.”

Wong said even with a smaller budget and staff, the library sees itself as a key part of the local recovery effort.

With a rising number of adults out of work, Wong said the library will double down on workforce development programs, including skill building, reading and digital literacy, and jobs matching programs.

She said maintaining services to youth and families will be difficult with more than 80% of youth-serving librarians laid off, but added that the library has a large catalogue of virtual children’s books, has been experimenting with online children’s programs and plans to continue free youth tutoring programs when branches reopen. 

“Even when we are going to focus on youth services and families, we won’t have the expertise to be able to do that well,” she said. 

But online reading and programs won’t be accessible to all library patrons, Wong said. She said she is hoping to tap internet service providers to sponsor internet access for low-income individuals and families, and continue one-one-one tutoring for youth and adults by putting up clear barriers between instructors and patrons.

“We want to meet people where their needs are, including technology and internet access, but also a human connection in a safe and productive way,” she said. 

Wong said the library has been calling senior members to perform wellness checks and will continue to provide senior programs, especially classes that help older adults understand how to make use of online resources.

‘They’re the most vulnerable in terms of exposure, so we may go to where they are instead of expecting them to come in, maybe by bringing out loaning libraries,” she said. 

The library could eventually scale staffing and programming back up if more funding becomes available, Wong said. 

She said the library is exploring working with “partner agencies” to provide services at the shuttered Fairview and Ocean Park branches, which she worries could attract vandalism and other types of crime if they remain closed.

But if the city restored $2 million in funding, the library could reopen all five branches five days a week, Wong said. 

“We would love to build up again,” she said. “This next year is going to be about experimentation.”

Join the Conversation


  1. A shout out to my fellow page brothers and sisters. I know you all did so much more than shelve books. So thank you and I miss you. Always remember that you deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect that you give others, no matter what side of the desk you are on, and to whom of the public you are serving. Without pages, there wouldn’t be books.

  2. As a heavy Library user for over a half-century, th e virus closure hit me hard. I am glad to leanr of limited re-opening.

    But don’t understand several things about the limited re-opening:

    1 Two different opening times have been announced. Which is the right one?

    2. What good does the curbside service do me if I can ‘t get in to choose my books/videos?

    3 I have seen Li brary announcement that we will have access to Main first floor only
    Why not collections upstairs?

  3. Why does the Montana branch remain open when there will be no library access for residents in south Santa Monica? There has often been a split for city services that favor the more affluent, northern part of Santa Monica. The Ocean Park Library deserves special recognition as one Andrew Carnegie funded, and who believed that public libraries were the key to self-improvement for ordinary Americans. I understand that this decision was made based on using the 405 Freeway as the focal point, with the Main Library and Montana branch to the north, and the Pico branch to the south. The Pico branch is a beautiful library, but it does not serve residents in Ocean Park to the south.

  4. Rick Cole offered a 20% pay cut. Why shouldn’t the entire City workforce take a 20% pay cut?

    Does it hurt trying to reach out to the multi-millionaire city pensioners with their guaranteed annuities for a 5 or 10% haircut?

    Wake up people.

    This is all a cover to raise your taxes for mis-allocating our limited resources for feel good policies.

  5. Glad to hear the library will re open. And hope that the funding will come through to re hire those being laid off. When will the re opening occur?

  6. The Santa Monica Library should be an “Essential Service” (all branches). It has always provided support for students as well as the entire community to expand research and education . If anything more money should be budgeted for its use… More than ever the use of all branches should be encouraged and expanded. Why? First; schools have been closed children and adults need the services provided by the library more than ever. The use of WiFi virtual classrooms, books, tutorials etc as well as all the other learning/teaching services should be expanded not reduced. How will it be funded? I don’t know but to those smarter and more influential than me should figure it out!!! The library was one of most important resources used by me when my granddaughter was a student at Samohi. Please reconsider this decision. I’m sure more can be said…

  7. I have 2 books that need to be returned. Can I drop these outdoors at the Ocean Park Branch even though it is closed?

  8. Hi. When the library reopens, I would like to volunteer to help shelve books, etc. I worked at Dutton’s Bookstore on San Vicente Blvd. for 5 years, have a master’s degree in literature from Stanford, have been a SMPL library card for 3+ decades — and also know how to alphabetize/shelve books. Please let me know if I can be of service.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *